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Life of the Party

Life of the Party
March 2015
Gillian Zettler dishes on her first year as executive director of the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival

It’s a pivotal year for the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival, held March 4-8. Not only is it the event’s 10th anniversary, but Gillian Zettler is for the first time at its helm as executive director. A national search brought the Vermont-raised Zettler to the Holy City last year, luring her away from her post as director of Greenville’s Euphoria food festival. We caught up with her at a favorite coffee shop, Collective, to chat about her new role and high hopes for the event.

CM: What drew you down South from Vermont?
GZ: I was looking at colleges, and I saw the Tillman Hall clock tower on Clemson’s website with this gorgeous sunrise. I thought, “I really have no idea where Clemson, South Carolina, is, but I want that to be on my college tour.” I still think Clemson has the most beautiful sunrises.

CM: How did you attack your position as the festival’s new executive director?
GZ: By listening. I met with the chefs early on and heard about how they wanted to shake things up. We got some interesting questions that started with “Would it be okay if …. ?” Some exciting things came out of that.

CM: Will your love of music impact the festival?
GZ: Music is a passion of mine, for sure, but I also feel like it’s such a natural part of a great gathering. Whether you’re planning an event for 500 people or doing a dinner party in your backyard, music can be the foundation for the ambiance. Charles Carmody from the Charleston Music Hall has infused great artists into the festival. I’m really excited about [Southern rock-soul musician] Marc Broussard’s concert.

CM: If I could only do one festival event, what should it be?
GZ: The Culinary Village in Marion Square. I’m especially excited about the SCE&G Hands-On Kitchen. For example, you’ve got Hugh Acheson [a James Beard Award-winning chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author from Georgia] doing a pickling class and Lionel Vatinet [the baker/owner of Cary, North Carolina’s La Farm Bakery] teaching bread-making. The more opportunities guests have to get their hands dirty, the more vivid memories they’ll leave with.

CM: How do you unwind?
GZ: We love taking our 110-pound Rhodesian ridgeback, Jeter, to the beach on Sullivan’s Island early in the morning. We’ll bring cups of coffee and just let him go. And yes, he’s named for Derek Jeter.

Lives: Mount Pleasant with husband Spencer (a former Canadian Olympic speed skater), and son Ethan, 12
Passions (aside from food): ”Baseball—especially the Yankees, drawing, and my crazy Italian family”
Loves about Charleston: “For the most part, we get to be outdoors 365 days a year. The light and fresh air make for happier people.”
Favorite dishes in town: Veggie plate at The Macintosh and Two Boroughs Larder breakfast sandwiches